on being perfect

I’ve been thinking about perfectionism. I used to think that being a perfectionist was a good thing, something to be proud of. Recently I’ve changed my mind on that.

As an elementary school student, I used to copy my homework over and over until it was good enough to turn in.   I’m the person who would vacuum my apartment daily to maintain the vacuum lines on the carpet.     I’m also the person who wasn’t able to receive a compliment because I never measured up to my own standard, so no matter what others thought or said, I was never good enough. I knew they didn’t know the truth about me, so I’d disregard what they said.

Several years ago I had begun attending Weight Watchers meetings. Somewhere along the line I “fell off the weight loss band wagon” and stopped going. When I finally made myself go back, the leader kindly said, “You’re a perfectionist, aren’t you?” I answered, “Yes, why do you ask?”   She said that perfectionists had the hardest time with weight loss because they were usually “all or nothing” kind of people. That comment startled me. I had to think about that for some time, and wouldn’t you know it, she was right! If I couldn’t follow the plan perfectly, then I’d quit.

One definition for perfectionism is the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.

Striving for perfection is a good thing. The problem is the whole ‘refusal to accept’ part. We should all try to give our best, to do our best, to be our best. But, if we fall short, even a little bit, we perfectionists consider ourselves a complete failure. We’ve let ourselves down, or we’ve let others down and we just can’t handle it. In refusing to accept anything less than perfection, we refuse to accept ourselves.

Perfectionism can become our own worst enemy. It is our judge. It is our accuser. It can paralyze us or push us over the procrastination precipice.  It can cause us to isolate ourselves from others to avoid their expected rejection.

I’ve finally severed my ties with perfectionism. I am an (almost) fully recovered perfectionist.  I can’t tell you how much happier I am! If you were to stop by my home unannounced, you’d find laundry in process, a few or a lot of dishes on the counter; most likely there’d be dust on every surface – I just can’t seem to eradicate it and I’m not willing to dust twice a day, or twice a week – life’s too short and my time’s too precious – there’d be mail on the table and a pile by the phone. My desk would probably have a pile or two as well. Those things used to bother me waaaaaaay too much. It’s not that they don’t bother me now, it’s just that I’ve chosen not to let them bother me enough to ruin my day or (everyone elses!)

I have cancer to thank for my release from perfectionist prison. During treatments and surgeries when I wasn’t able to keep up with things, I didn’t! I learned that life went on in spite of undone tasks and I was still a person worthy of love and friendship! I realized in a concrete way that perfect performance does not give me value or worth. It’s one thing to know that, it’s completely another thing to live it.

I still try my best, but I give my best effort to the things that matter the most. There is always more to do than time or energy to do them. There will always be someone who is skinnier, or more beautiful, or smarter than me. That doesn’t mean that I’m fat, ugly and dumb! It just means that they are skinnier, more beautiful or smarter! Oh well! Not everyone can be/can have everything, and that’s okay!

There will always be someone who’s house is tidier, in better repair, more fashionable, whatever. But there is only one me and my friends and family love me for who I am and not for what I do or what I have, and that’s good enough for me!

Let’s strive for perfection, but accept our efforts when we fall short. Even better, let’s do our best and let that be good enough.

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2 Responses to “on being perfect”

  1. Bonnelle Pagel Says:

    Oh my friend Kris… how I needed to hear this!! The self-condemnation I have heaped on myself over the years… has become a huge weight. Through your words… I am reminded of that wonderful verse that says, “There is therefore NOW NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”… that ME… that’s you.. that’s all of us… recovering/former perfectionists. Thank you for sharing this wonderful insight with all of us!!

  2. rnjblack7 Says:

    Kris, what a great way to explain perfectionism. I never thought of myself as being a perfectionist but through your words I now see that my quitting and hesitance to begin something if I couldn’t do it well, is called being a perfectionist. Wow I have learned many things in these last ten years but this one actually gives me a reason to not be so hard on myself. Thanks for your words of wisdom and insightl. It is very much appreciated. Have a great evening.

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